Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/02/25/tabletop-review-the-unspeakable-oath-issue-22-call-of-cthulhu-trail-of-cthulhu-cthulhu-dark-delta-green/
Well, although The Unspeakable Oath isn’t back to a quarterly schedule, the gap between this issue and #21 (seven months) is noticeably smaller than the one between #21 and #20 (thirteen months). With a little luck, we might actually get to have more than one issue this year. Here’s hoping things get back on track for Arc Dream’s wonderful little periodical.
If you’re new to the concept of The Unspeakable Oath, it’s a magazine devoted to Cthulhu based roleplaying games. Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green, Trail of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark, Shadows of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu Cthulhupunk and so on. If it’s a pen and paper system based on Lovecraftian beasties, they will try and cover it. The vast majority of content tends to be Call oriented, but this issue and the previous one have seen an increase in Trail of Cthulhu coverage. ToC isn’t my cup of tea, but I’m glad to see it get some coverage for those that like it. This issue contains fifteen different articles, so we’ll take a look at each one, then see if the overall package is worth you five to ten dollars (depending on the format you purchase it in).
The Dread Page of Azathoth – This issue Shane Ively takes a break from writing this, so Ken Hite can do a guest column lamenting the loss of Lynn Willis, one of the biggest names in the industry and the creator of so many great products, many of which were Cthulhu oriented. Just a really classy column and the loss of Willis is a loss for tabletop gaming as a whole.
Mysterious Manuscript: The Saffron Book – This is a short, one page article about a new tome for use with Call of Cthulhu. It’s a cute idea where the book can only be read while dreaming. Keepers who make extensive use of the Dreamlands will really like this one. It might be a bit hard for an inexperienced gamer to fit into an adventure or campaign without shoehorning it in though.
The Eye of Light and Darkness – As always, this is my least favorite section in the magazine. It’s eight pages of reviews, broken up into two areas in the magazine. I’m a not a fan of when any publication divides an article like that, and I also don’t like that they look at older products. Now, I’ve worked in the publishing industry since I was seventeen and I know the flow of magazines and the time it takes to go from concept to print, but the reviews are of products that are years old instead of more recent releases like Terror From the Skies, Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore or The Phantom of Wilson Creek. I wouldn’t ask them to get a review of Atomic Age Cthulhu in, but I do know that TUO is in good standing with every Cthulhuoid publisher out there and that, if they asked, they could get review copies of more recent products to publish in the issue. Even better, these eight pages could be used for previews or chapter samples of upcoming Cthulhu products like Arc Dream’s own The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man or Miskatonic River Press’ Punktown. Either way, it would be a better use of this section, which is nearly an eighth of the magazine, and the talents of Beck, Pook and Simmons. Hey, if any of those three would like review copies, I know a website that is always looking for more tabletop gaming reviewers…
Arcane Artifact: Malyutin’s Nightmare Matryoshkas – I’ve always had a soft spot for stacking dolls, which you probably knew if you read my reviews of Stacking and The Lost Hobo King. These particular dolls are very similar in theme and design to the recent “artifact hunt” that could be found in Shadowrun adventures back in 2011. I’m sure it’s a coincidence because a) those weren’t dolls but seemingly random things and b) while both disperse in similar fashion after a time, you can’t go insane from the Shadowrun version. These dolls are nicely creepy, and besides the Shadowrun comparison, I keep thinking they would have been excellent in an episode of the old Friday the 13th TV series. This is another fun little idea that an enterprising Keeper could make good use of.
China Dolls: Children of Madame Yi – This is a new Lesser Servitor Race for use with Call of Cthulhu. This is a pretty creepy monster, as it’s a mix of Body Snatchers with, well… a mask. No doubt seeing a close friend or relative of an Investigator can be both dramatic and horrific if/when it occurs in a story. The Children of Madame Yi aren’t just a creature you can randomly throw in for shock value, so be sure to craft an adventure that spotlights these nasty beasties.
Die High – This is one of the two adventures in this issue, and it’s a pretty innovative one, not just because it’s designed for Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Dark. This is the second issue in a row to have an adventure geared for multiple systems, and I love that TUO is doing this, as it maximizes the potential for being used. After all, everyone prefers different systems, and the fact that the work for converting to one’s system preference has been taken care of just makes it all the more attractive. Besides the multi-system offering, “Die High” is a fabulous idea for an adventure, especially if you do it as a one shot, because you can highlight a lot of unusual professions that neither Keepers nor players tend to think of during character creation. As well, the creature spotlighted in this adventure is highly unique and definitely memorable, especially with its preferred method of “attack.” I had a lot of fun flipping through this, and I can’t wait to try it out on some of my friends. “Die High” is roughly a fourth of the issue, so expect to spend the bulk of your reading right here.
Tale of Terror: The Found Phone. This is a one page adventure seed that gives you three possible options for a cell phone containing a grisly video. Personally, I preferred option three as it’s the most shocking to play on an Investigator, but it also doesn’t make for much of an adventure. Still, all three have potential and it’s a cute article.
Tale of Terror: St. Michael’s Gate. This is another three pronged adventure seed where you can pick which option you want to run your Investigators against. What’s nice about this one is that “St. Michael’s Gate” is for Cthulhu Dark Ages, which doesn’t get nearly enough love in my opinion. Here, a religious order has cut off access to the water supply of a village, and it is up to the players to figure out why. Another nice job.
Starting Your Call of Cthulhu Campaign – This is an eight page article in which, unsurprisingly, is contained a guide to starting a Call of Cthulhu campaign. While this is a very well written article, it’s the weakest inclusion in the issue, and I personally wouldn’t have put it in an issue of The Unspeakable Oath. Why? Because nearly every single person that picks this magazine up is a Call of Cthulhu veteran that knows all the tips and tricks included herein. It would be like me writing an article for Pokemon Collector entitled “What are Pokemon?” It might be exceptionally well written, but it’s an article that doesn’t need to exist because the core audience doesn’t need that. That said, this would have been great as an inclusion in a more all encompassing magazine, like the old Kobold Quarterly or Gygax Magazine. Maybe even something for the Chaosium home page. It’s just kind of lost on the majority of people who pick this up.
Tale of Terror: Bargain Hunter – The third adventure seed is also the weakest. Here the Investigators get into a bidding war with another clutch of people over an object of occult importance. The seed gives you three options as to the motivations behind the other group. It’s not bad, but out of the three options, the only one I cared for was the first.
Mysterious Manuscript: Atlas of Arkham 1911 (Annotated) – This is an odd little book, and I’m still not sure if I like the idea of the book or not. Basically it’s a typical atlas of Arkham, MA, but with handwritten commentary by an unknown owner. It’s a neat idea, but one we’ve seen dozens of times throughout the history of Call of Cthulhu. As well, the handwritten notes can be a hard thing to pull off properly, simply because of handwriting issues. The nature of this specific book also makes it too easy for some Keepers to use as a catch-all or Dues Ex Machina for when players get stumped. I didn’t find any of the story seeds that interesting either. I’m sure someone will make use of this however, just not me.
Remember, Remember – This is a Trail of Cthulhu adventure set in modern times on Bonfire Night, meaning non English Keepers may have to do a bit of research to better understand this unique little holiday. I like the setting and location, but I’m not a fan of the story and the flow of the piece. It’s a little too heavy on Mythos creatures for my liking, and like too many ToC published adventures, it reads like the Keeper is holding the hand of the Investigators more than I like. I realize the latter complaint is actually why some people enjoy Trail of Cthulhu, but I like my players to think for themselves instead of being led like a 16-bit JRPG. It’s not a bad adventure, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not my cup of tea, though I can appreciate a lot of the ideas and effort put into this piece.
Tale of Terror: The Smedley House – This is a two page adventure seed and I found it to be a really fascinating one. All three of the options here are well worth pursuing and it’s hard to pick which I would do if I was going to turn this into a full fledged adventure for my friends. Basically, the vacant lot across the street from an Investigator’s house now contains a house, and a friendly neighbor that knows a little too much about them. The question is, where did this come from and why? Again, all three options are extremely well done and I only wish you could do all three!
Directives From A-Cell – It wouldn’t be an issue of The Unspeakable Oath without a fun Delta Green column from Adam Scott Glancy. In this case, we’re given a Delta Green take on “Rogers’ Rules for Ranging” entitled “Alphonse’s Axioms for Agents.” This is a set of forty-four rules for agents to keep in mind as they investigate otherworldly horrors. It’s a lot of fun and very well done. I’m always happy to see new Delta Green articles and TUO is really the only place to get them.
Message In a Bottle: The Thing in the Box – As always, The Unspeakable Oath ends with a piece of short fiction. I’m generally not a fan of the fiction they print in this mag, but this one was interesting. It’s just so weird, I ended up reading it two or three times to see if there was anything “between the lines” so to speak.
So, out of fifteen articles, I can give a thumb’s up to two-thirds of the magazine. Even then, some of the things I wasn’t happy with or fond of was more personal tastes than a lack of quality. As always, The Unspeakable Oath is, pound for pound, the best gaming magazine today and it’s well worth spending five to ten dollars on. If Arc Dream could only keep a consistent publishing schedule going, it could win out “Best Gaming Magazine” award one of these years. My fingers are crossed that 2013 is the year where we get two or more issues of The Unspeakable Oath, as it’s too good not to have a regular publishing schedule.